To help provide context this post contains both a summary of the moral part of the epistle (Col 3:1-4:6), and of Col 3:1-17. Text in red are my additions to the original commentary. These additions are (mostly) quotes from Fr. Callan’s Commentary on Ephesians.
MORAL PART OF THE EPISTLE
A Summary of Colossians 3:1-4:6~In the Moral Part of the Epistle to the Colossians St. Paul, arguing from the principles he has laid down in the Dogmatic Part, takes up the duties of the Christian life in general, showing what life in union with the Risen Lord demands, first in a negative and then in a positive way (Col 3:1-17). Next he treats of relative duties, pertinent to particular states (Col 3:18—4:1), concluding with some precepts addressed to all Christians (Col 4:2-6). See Introduction, No. IV, C. (Not yet posted)
CHRISTIANS MUST EXHIBIT NEWNESS OF LIFE
A Summary of Colossians 3:1-17~After having directly attacked the errors of the pseudodoctors and shown their baneful and futile consequences (Col 2:8-23), the Apostle now returns to the positive teaching of Col 2:6-7, pointing out that Christians share in the risen life of their Lord, and that consequently new and higher motives should dominate their activities. Being dead to the lower things, they are now centred in Christ, and will appear with Him hereafter in glory (Col 3:1-4). This new life requires in a negative way a breaking with all the sins of their pagan past (Col 3:5-9), and on its positive and practical side an ever fuller growing into the likeness of Christ, and into a state where Christ is supreme for all mankind (Col 3:10-11). Moreover, this new life involves a practice of those virtues which Christ’s example has taught, especially charity, which is the bond of perfection, and unity, which couples the members of the Christian society with their divine Head. May the message of Christ be fruitful in them, making itself vibrant in their hearts and vocal in their music! All their undertakings must be performed in their Master’s name, and thus they will be rendering continual thanks to God the Father who has conferred all blessings on us through Christ (Col 3:12-17).
1. Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God:
2. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth.
As an antidote to the doctrines of the false teachers who were imposing material things as a means of spiritual progress, St. Paul here tells his readers to lift their thoughts above where Christ their Head is seated, as a king on his throne, ready to dispense His gifts and graces to His subjects.
If. See above, on Col 2:20. Here is what Fr. Callan wrote there: The connective “if” here, as later in Col 3:1, does not express doubt or conjecture, but rather assumption...
Be risen, etc. See on Col 2:12. Fr. Callan there wrote: The Apostle explains when and how the Colossians received the circumcision of Christ. It took place at the time of their Baptism, when their immersion in the water signified their death and burial to sin, and their coming out of it represented their resurrection to a new life of grace. See on Rom 6:4 ff.
At the right hand, etc., i.e., the place of power and authority.
3. For you are dead; and your hfe is hid with Christ in God.
4. When Christ shall appear, who is our life, then you also shall appear with him in glory.
The Apostle now gives the reason why all the thoughts and desires of the faithful should be above. In Baptism they died to the world and things of earth, and their supernatural life, like the life of their Risen Saviour, is hidden from the sight of men; but at the end of time when Christ appears in glory to judge the world, then their hidden life shall also be made manifest.
In verse 4 of the Vulgate we should have vita nostra, instead of vita vestra, according to the best Greek.
5. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, unclcanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols.
The faithful must master and hold at bay those evil tendencies of their nature which would destroy their hidden life and lead them away from Christ. The Apostle mentions here, as in Eph 5:3-5, some of the sins and vices to which they were most inclined, and which therefore they must especially guard against. See on Eph 5:3-5. Father Callan writes concerning these sins in his comments on Eph 5:3-5~Impurity and grasping self-assertion were central sins of paganism, and they are condemned by the Apostle in all their forms; not only are they not to be practised, they are not even to be named among Christians, who by their profession are consecrated to the God of holiness, purity, and justice. He also writes the following concerning fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness which are also mentioned in the present verse:
Fornicator (fornication), as here used, means also adultery and every illicit sexual union.
Unclean (uncleanness) refers to private impurity.
Covetous person (covetousness), i.e., inordinate lover of material wealth, a person who makes a god of his money. (see further note on covetousness below).
Which is a serving of idols. Covetousness is a kind of real idolatry.
Your members which are upon the earth most likely refers to the vices which he proceeds to enumerate, and which are all in the accusative or objective case following “mortify” (Knabenbauer, h. l.).
Covetousness . . . the service of idols. Lightfoot says that “covetousness” here is to be taken in its ordinary sense, as greed for material gain, and that the Greek word of itself never denotes sensual lust. But that the word lends itself to a connection with sensual ideas appears from a comparison of this passage with Eph 4:19, Eph 5:3-5; 1 Thess 4:6; 1 Cor 5:11. “Service of idols” would then refer back to all the sins just enumerated. Cf. Moule, h. l.
6. For which things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of unbelief,
The Apostle warns his readers of the punishment that is in store for the vices just spoken of.
Upon the children of unbelief is not in the best Greek, but is probably to be retained on good documentary evidence. See on Eph 5:6. The text of Ephesians states that “because of these things” (i.e., the sins mentioned above) “cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief.” Fr. Callan writes: The Apostle warns his readers not to be deceived and led into error by any “vain” (i.e., empty and false) words or talk, regarding the sins he has just condemned; for because of those very sins the punishment of God “cometh,” i.e., visits now and will continue to visit in the future those rebellious ones who disobey and disregard His teachings as contained in the Gospel. Cf, Col 3:6.
7. In which you also walked some time, when you lived in them.
In which can refer to the “children of unbelief” of the preceding verse (in which case we should translate “among whom”), or to the vices mentioned in verse 5; more probably the latter.
When you lived, etc., refers to the time before their conversion.
8. But now put you also all away anger, indignation, malice, blasphemy, filthy speech out of your mouth.
See on Eph 4:29, Eph 4:31. Anger and indignation can sometimes be justifiable (“be angry, but sin not”, Eph 4:6), but quite often these passions degenerate into sin, often manifesting themselves in malice, blasphemy, filthy speech, etc. Concerning anger Fr. Callan writes the following in his commentary on Eph 4:31: Anger is a transient outburst of passion, whereas indignation, or wrath, is a settled or chronic condition including the purpose of revenge. On blasphemy he writes: Blasphemy is taken literally from the Greek, but it would be better to translate it in this passage by “reviling,” since there is question now of evil speech, not against God but against man. Concerning malice he writes: Malice, i.e., malevolence or the desire to injure, is the root of the sins just mentioned. Compare the parallel passage in Col 3:8.
9. Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds,
The old man, etc. See on Eph 4:22; Eph 4:24-25. Ephe 4:22 reads: “put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error.” Father Callan comments: They have been taught—or rather, they were taught at the time of their conversion—to put off the old sinful man inherited from Adam, whose principles and mode of life were theirs as pagans, and living according to which they became ever more and more plunged into sin and error.
10. And putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him.
The Apostle has just been enumerating sins which Christians must avoid. But it is not enough to weed out vices; virtues must be planted in.
The new. i.e., the new man, the new self. See on Eph 4:24. Father Callan comments on that verse as follows: It is not sufficient to put off the old man of sin which you have inherited from Adam, but you must also “put on the new man, etc.,” i.e., the man who has been regenerated by the grace of the Holy Ghost, and who having been created “according to God, etc.” (i.e., having been created in the beginning in the image and likeness of God), imitates God in his new life of grace by keeping the commandments which reflect the divine will and therefore God Himself. This new man, or creation of grace, “is created in justice and holiness,” i.e., he lives a life faithful to the obligations he owes to his neighbor (justice) and to the duties he owes to God (holiness)—that is, a life which is in entire conformity with “the truth” of the Gospel, as revealed in the Gospel.
Who is renewed, etc. The regenerate life is one of progress, growling into ever fuller knowledge and more perfect love of God, of Christ, and of our duties as Christians (2 Cor 4:16).
According to the image, etc. As man in the natural order was made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-28), so in his regeneration does he come to express that image, but in a far more perfect manner (Gal 6:15).
11. Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all.
In this new state of regenerated humanity the old distinctions of races and conditions of men are wiped out, and all are united in one mystical body of which Christ is the head and the faithful the members.
Barbarian was a contemptuous term, applied in pre-Augustan times to all who did not speak Greek; later it signified all who were devoid of Roman and Greek culture.
Scythian meant the worst of barbarians. The Scythians were much like the modern Turks, and the Greeks and Jews regarded them “as the wildest of wild tribes” (Moule).